Advice on how you can manage people’s reactions to your child’s appearance and model a positive response to your child.
As someone who looks different, your child may receive comments and questions about their appearance – or you may find that these remarks are directed at you.
For parents and carers, it can be difficult to hear comments and questions which are unkind, thoughtless or designed to cause hurt.
On this page, we share some suggestions to help you deal with this.
The information on this page has been written to support you, as the parents and carers of young people with visible differences. We have produced separate advice and guidance for children and young people. You might want to share the guides linked below with your child or you could read them together.
- What to do if people say hurtful things about the way you look.
- What to do if people ask questions about how you look.
Often, people ask questions and make comments out of curiosity. Although it can be painful, irritating or upsetting for you and your child, most people do not mean to cause hurt or offence. Usually, they simply don’t consider that what they are saying might be difficult for you and your child. This doesn’t excuse these reactions, but it can be helpful to remember that they are probably not trying to hurt your feelings.
It can help to think about a time when you saw someone different. You may not have said anything aloud, but perhaps you found questions and thoughts coming into your head. This is because as humans we are all curious and we like to understand unfamiliar things. Some people just forget their manners or act impulsively without consideration for others, even if they do not actively mean to be rude.
Hurtful questions and comments
Some people do want to cause hurt, and they may choose questions and comments that they know will upset you and your child. Just remember that this behaviour is not you or your child’s fault – it is something the other person has chosen to do and it is their responsibility, not yours.
It probably has little to do with your child’s appearance. Very likely they would have chosen another target had they not come across your child.
It can help to have a prepared response in case someone makes a comment or asks a question. This way, even if you are taken off guard, you will have a ready response you can fall back on. If they are old enough, discuss this with your child so you can work out your responses beforehand and decide how you would each like to respond.
Things to consider
Some things that may influence your response:
- How much (or how little) do you and your child want to say about their visible difference?
- Who are you talking to? Is it a passing acquaintance or someone you hope (or need) to establish a friendship with?
- How are you feeling? Some days we might feel more confident about talking to others.
- What is the situation? Are you talking to a new friend one-to-one or in a busy place where others could overhear your conversation and personal information?
Be kind to yourselves
Remember to be kind to yourselves. Neither you nor your child should expect to manage every situation perfectly. Some days will be better than others. On good days you may feel like going to the park or the shops and be confident in responding to other people.
If the comment or question is hurtful
Make an assertive and simple statement about their rudeness:
- “I don’t think its very kind to be rude about my child, please stop.”
- “My child just has a scar. It happened a long time ago. There is no need to be rude.”
- “It’s just a birthmark. It doesn’t bother us so please don’t make such a fuss about it.”
- “My child has neurofibromatosis. He may look different but he can hear and what you said really hurts.”
Make sure your child is prepared for conversations on their own
Remember that your child may face comments and questions when you are not around, so it is important that they have pre-prepared responses too. We have guides for young people on how to handle comments and how to deal with questions.
When it comes to questions, there are a few different ways you could respond.
Tell them you do not want to discuss it at all
- An explicit statement that you don’t want to continue the conversation: “I’d rather not talk about it. I’m sure you can understand.”
- A short answer which clearly signals that it’s the end of the subject: “My son was burned when he was younger. It was a long time ago and I don’t talk about it much now.”
You could offer a brief and simple response before diverting the conversation to another subject: “It’s just burn scarring from an accident he had a long time ago. I love it here, don’t you? It’s such a nice place.”
You don’t have to continue talking about your child’s condition. You can move the conversation on in a natural and appropriate way. At playgroup or a parents’ group it is easy to focus on things you may have in common or to engage in small talk.
- “What is your son’s name?”
- “Do you live nearby?”
- “I got very little sleep last night. Marla is teething.”
- “I wondered if you knew of a good childminder – I am going back to work soon.”
You could also indicate that you’re at ease with the subject, but encourage a more general discussion rather than a personal one: “My son was burned when he was younger, but fortunately smoke alarms have greatly reduced the number of injuries like his.”
In general, the more significant the other person, the more you are likely to want to share.
Here are some more detailed responses:
- “Bob looks different because he has Crouzon syndrome. He had to spend a lot of time in hospital when he was little. He isn’t talking yet but he understands what you are saying and loves to play.”
- “Jess had in an accident when she was a baby and she has a scar on her face. She has had to have operations and there will probably be some more, she also has scarring on her legs and she can get quite upset about it, but overall she is just happy when she is playing and she doesn’t talk about it much.”
Exercise: Preparing down short and longer responses
Practise writing down short and longer responses in a notebook. Below are some scenarios to try out. Think about whether a short or longer description would be appropriate. If you think either might be suitable, write down both.
- You are meeting an old friend you haven’t seen for years and you show them a picture of your family. They say, “Can I ask about your son’s appearance?”
- Someone you have just met when picking up your child from the childminder’s says, “What’s the matter with your child, then?”
- At a work Christmas party, you are with a colleague you have worked with closely for a year and get on with well. They have seen you with your daughter before and bring this up, saying, “I was just wondering what happened to your daughter?”
- On the bus, a stranger says, “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but what happened to your kid’s face?”